Nuanced

09.26.14 9:45 AM ET

SNL’s Kim Kardashian Konundrum: Why Nasim Pedrad’s Exit Hurts So Much

She was the perfect Kim Kardashian: smirking and perpetually slow-motion posing for selfies, with a high-pitched, over-enunciated voice. What’s SNL going to do without Nasim Pedrad?

It was a tumultuous summer hiatus for Saturday Night Live. Several first-year featured players were sent packing (Brooks Wheelan, Noël Wells, and John Milhiser, we barely knew you—no seriously, who are you again?); another, Mike O’Brien, was ordered back to the writing staff. There was a much-needed shakeup at the Weekend Update desk (welcome, Michael Che and farewell, Colin J…wait a minute, why is Cecily Strong the one who’s losing her anchor spot?). And Darrell Hammond, who was the longest-tenured cast member in the show’s history, is returning as SNL’s new announcer, stepping in for the dearly departed Don Pardo.

As the 40th season kicks off Saturday night with host Chris Pratt, talk has already turned to next season’s changes—TMZ reported Monday that Kenan Thompson is calling it quits after this year. Yet one big move remains largely overlooked amid SNL’s summer shuffle: the departure of Nasim Pedrad, who left after five seasons to star on the new Fox sitcom Mulaney.

While she was never a breakout star on the level of last year’s high-profile exits, like Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis, Pedrad was a solid, reliable utility player, with memorable recurring characters like Arianna Huffington, parent-worshipping Bedelia, and motivational speaker/pelvic thruster extraordinaire Heshy. While those roles will be missed, Pedrad’s most essential contribution to SNL will be much harder to live without: her peerless impression of Kim Kardashian.

For five years, Pedrad’s Kim was a Saturday Night Live highlight, a reliable source of laughs during even the rockiest of seasons. Her early appearances with sisters Khloe and Kourtney gave way to “Kim’s Divorce Special” (celebrating the end of Kardashian’s blink-and-you-missed-it marriage to Kris Humphries), and best of all, the recurring sketch “Waking Up with Kimye,” her morning talk show alongside now-husband Kanye West (played by Jay Pharoah).

For better or for worse—okay, for much worse—and in the face of all 15-minutes-of-fame logic, Kim Kardashian isn’t going anywhere, even after seven years in the spotlight. We’re still stuck seeing the reality star plastered on every tabloid cover, starring in endless iterations of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and instagramming and tweeting as if her life depended on it. Pedrad’s take on Kim has been our reward for having to put up with the real thing, and the only acceptable version of Kim Kardashian on television.

It’s also deceptively nuanced. Anyone could simply play Kim as a dim bulb. (Both Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong’s impressions of the other two Kardashian sisters—Kourtney and Khloe, respectively—are cut from the same cloth as their recurring “not-porn-stars-anymore” commercial models.) But Pedrad brought more layers to the role than even Kim herself actually has.

She started with the smirk permanently plastered to Kim’s face. Then, she was always posing in slow-motion, as if perpetually taking mental selfies. She added in the high-pitched, over-enunciated voice, like she was alternating between sucking on helium and a bong. And the topper was the way her Kim bubbles over with delight whenever she delivers her latest inane proclamation, like what marriage is (“That’s the thing you need in order to get a divorce!”), how she lost her baby weight (“Through a healthy diet, regular exercise and Photoshop!”) or why her laptop broke (“I saw an Apple on it, so I dipped it in caramel!”). It’s the perfect foil to Pharaoh’s jittery (“HEH!”), intense, perpetually-out-of-breath Kanye.

It takes a lot of hard work to appear that vacant, but Pedrad had been perfecting Kim since long before she landed on SNL. Her Kim impression was part of her initial audition. Since then, she’s owned the role through Kim’s every selfie-absorbed moment. Whenever something even more ridiculous than usual happened in Kim’s world: from her divorce to that WTF “Bound 2” video, Pedrad was there to give it the skewering it deserved.

Now, Pedrad is gone, just when we need her Kim on SNL more than ever. Since Saturday Night Live last aired in May, the real Kim married Kanye West, made a boatload of money on her Kim Kardashian: Hollywood app, and Took The Hamptons (okay, technically Khloe and Kourtney did the Taking, but she was there filming, too).

That leaves SNL with a Kim Kardashian Konundrum: who can possibly fill Pedrad’s stilettos and share the “Waking Up with Kimye” couch with Pharoah? Of the three cast members closest to Kim’s physicality—Bayer, Strong, and McKinnon—the first two are already spoken for playing the other sisters, while Kate McKinnon, as fabulous as she is, is too manic to accurately capture Kim’s vacuity.

Of course, there’s still one tantalizing option: Pedrad herself. Just as the show did in 2008 when Tina Fey, who had already left SNL for 30 Rock, was pressed back into service to play Sarah Palin, Pedrad could conceivably make appearances whenever her services are required to play Kim. 

Pedrad says she’s on board for that very scenario. “If they ever want to throw me on a plane to come back and hop in for a part like that, I would be game,” she tells me.

That is, as long as it’s only occasionally. Pedrad quickly got burnt out last spring juggling Mulaney, which had started production in L.A., and Saturday Night Live in New York. “These are two shows that are happening at the same time on opposite coasts,” she says. “I was constantly flying back and forth. There were times where I would fly in, do a table read in L.A., go right back to the airport and fly to New York.”

Working full time on both shows “is almost impossible,” says Pedrad. But if anyone could pull the strings necessary to get her for occasional SNL appearances, it’s Lorne Michaels, who not so coincidently is the executive producer of both shows.

A source close to SNL said nothing has been decided yet about who will play Kim this season. If the show opts not to invite Pedrad back, the actress offers one other suggestion: “Maybe the real Kim will come on the show!”

As both real and faux versions of Kim would say: “Ewwwww!” That’s even more horrifying than the idea of a Pedrad-less “Waking Up with Kimye” this season. Please, SNL, figure out a way to bring back the only Kardashian who is actually worth Keeping Up with.